Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) has made the Huntington Town Council her full time job since her inaugural election in 2001. She pledged, when she was first running for election, that she would stop practicing law and dedicate all her time to the board.
“I think the job really deserves that,” she said. “I’m the one who’s in the office, 95 percent of the time, when people come into the office to see a councilmember; I’m the one they get. I do a lot more events than anyone else does because I can and because I want to.”
On Monday, Berland sat down for an interview, at Book Revue in Huntington, to discuss her past achievements on the Huntington Town Board, and her campaign for re-election this November. She had just returned from a weekend away, helping her youngest son move into Yale University for his freshman year. Berland and her husband, Sandy Berland, live in Dix Hills and have four children: Stephanie, Alex, Schuyler and Grant.
“She is a person of action,” John Cooney, commander of Northport American Legion Post 694, said in a phone interview. “Susan has worked tirelessly on behalf of veterans in the community. We hold many different events, and in my 16 years, I have never seen Susan absent from one. I’m proud of what she’s done for this community; she follows through and listens.”
Berland was first elected to replace U.S. Rep. Steve Israel’s (D-Huntington) seat, when he won his seat in the House of Representatives in 2001. She previously worked on Israel’s Town Board campaign, and once he was re-elected, he asked her to work in the town attorney’s office to prosecute code violations.
When she first got into office, Berland moved to make government more transparent.
She said her first piece of legislation the board approved made parts of the town’s government more accessible. The Fair, Open and Accountable Government Act requires the zoning and planning boards to have their meetings in a public hearing room — the town board room at Huntington Town Hall. According to Berland, before she came into office that was not the case.
“I fought for 10 years to get the town’s television channel because I wanted town board meetings to be televised,” she said. “I’m really an advocate of open and accessible government.”
She thinks people need to have access to these meetings.
“If people have the opportunity to watch town board meetings in the comfort of their own homes, they’ll be more inclined to watch it.”
Huntington Town has its share of blighted homes — another issue Berland’s addressed with legislation.
“We don’t have rows and rows of houses that are blighted, we have one on each street,” she said. “They come as a patchwork, but it affects the street it’s on tremendously, and I think that’s important to people.”
In order to fight the blighted houses, Berland’s legislation created a new system that assesses if a house should be put on a townwide blight registry. If the property is added to the list, the owners are hit with a fine from the town and are allotted a certain amount of time to fix the problems with their property. If the owner doesn’t do so before the allotted deadline, the town pays for the cleanup of the property, and the money it costs the town to right all the problems is then added to that property owner’s tax bill.
When speaking to crime in Huntington Station, Berland said, “It’s always good to have cops on the beat.”
“The more they’re in the community and get to know the community, the better it is. For a lot of people, if you know the officer and have a relationship with the officer, I think you’re less likely to do something you shouldn’t do.”
Berland believes that large-scale projects that require a zone change, like The Seasons at Elwood, a 256-unit 55-and-older condo home community, and Benchmark Senior Living, a proposed 69-unit assisted living facility, are not issues of overdevelopment.
“I voted in favor of the Seasons,” she said. “Anytime we can create senior housing, where our seniors stay here and aren’t leaving, I think that’s a benefit. But you have to watch the density numbers.”
She originally voted no to Avalon Huntington Station, because of the number of units they wanted to fit in per acre. When Avalon compromised months later and reduced the number of units, Berland voted yes.
Berland has also been involved in legislation that benefits the youth of Huntington Town. According to Berland, the Huntington Youth Council, which is comprised of students from each of the town’s school districts, meet to discuss issues that affect students today.
When asked about her opponent’s support of term limits, as Berland is seeking her fifth term in office, she said, “the best manifestation of term limits is elections.”